Irishman shares international breeding expertise with Matamata dairy farmers

Mark Whelan

From breeding high performing Charolais cattle in Ireland, Mark Whelan is now sharing his international breeding expertise with Matamata dairy farmers to help them breed better cows faster.

Mark is CRV’s new sales consultant for the Matamata, Okoroire and Cambridge areas. Despite being an Irishman, he knows you can’t rely on good luck when it comes to breeding healthier, more efficient dairy cows.

Mark and the CRV team are hosting ‘Better Herd’ dairy farmer event in Hinuera on 7th March to help farmers understand their options and explore what might work for their business. They can learn more about the latest genetics CRV has on offer, its world-leading sexed semen technology; and options to capture, interpret and link data for better decision making.

Local farmers from each area will also be on hand to share what they have done to achieve their breeding goals, while tackling increasing regulatory and financial challenges.

From Ireland to NZ

Mark has been in New Zealand since late 2019. Originally coming over for a 6-month OE, the pandemic curtailed his plans, and he is now into his fourth year here.

Mark originally joined CRV working at the coalface on the company’s bull farm before soon progressing into his sales consultant role.

“My experience working with CRV’s bulls on farm has been valuable for my work in the field. I have a unique advantage knowing things like what each bull is like in the flesh, what their characteristics are and their temperament.”

Mark grew up on a beef farm in County Laois, Ireland. Though he had the typical ‘farm kid’ upbringing, he showed a passion for breeding and genetics from a young age. In 2018, Mark won the National Charolais Youth Stock Judging competition and went on to represent Ireland at the World Charolais Youth Congress in Canada. Mark has carried through that stock judging success to New Zealand. He won Dairy Judging at the 2022 New Zealand Young Farmer of the Year Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional finals and went on to place second in the dairy class at the national finals.

This knack has allowed Mark to develop skills for assessing cows’ strengths and weaknesses to create effective breeding plans. Mark has been lucky to have some knowledgeable breeders as a sounding board and as advisors in his initial transition from breeding beef stock to now helping his clients breed the best dairy animals for their businesses.

Knowing what to look for

The key to breeding better cows involves optimising the genetics of existing animals through assessing the strengths and deficiencies of the herd. That’s where Mark’s judging experience comes into play.

“When I look at an animal, I have a clear mental picture of their strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “I start on top, with a hard top and clean through its blending parts, like the shoulders to neck. An animal that blends well represents longevity. Many animals can have one great thing about them, but if it doesn’t continue to the next part of their frame, it shows us there is a weakness in the cow that we can improve on.

“From there I look down to their feet. The back feet should be angled correctly. If they’re not, the animal will experience uneven wear and be susceptible to lameness.

“Next comes the depth of the animal. You want the ribs angled back to the udder, and with good width between the ribs. A cow with these features can take in good levels of feed and have room for calves.

“Udder attachment is also very important. Does the udder attach and blend to the body? If it does, it tells me there’s good ligament support and that the udder will stay tight, even when it’s filled with milk. If there’s too much stretch, the animal will be prone to injury and reduced milking efficiency.”

Identifying bulls to help

Once Mark has thoroughly assessed a herd, he helps farmers develop a breeding plan. He identifies bulls that will bring the right type and production traits to breed out the herd’s weakness while improving its strengths. It’s a genetic puzzle that Mark loves solving for his customers.

“I’ve always enjoyed making breeding decisions. Back in Ireland, that was a part of farming I loved. I’d spend hours in my spare time researching and comparing. I’ve never considered breeding to be work,” he says.

“Here in New Zealand, my job is to understand the breeding goals of farmers and know what direction they want to take their herds. It’s so important to have a breeding goal and direction, an ideal type of cow. Otherwise, you’re leaving the progress of potentially your biggest asset to chance.”

Mark acknowledges that each farm business has different objectives. The stage of a farmer’s career, the lifestyle they want to achieve, geographic location. The list goes on.

“That’s the beauty of CRV’s breeding programme. It includes the best genetics from New Zealand and overseas. As a sales consultant, I have a genetic solution I can stand behind and confidently tell farmers it will make a positive impact on their herd.

“At the end of the day, I’m not here to push anything on people. Helping farmers and working alongside them is always my number one priority.”